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Congresswoman McCollum's Remarks on the FY2014 Interior-Environment Appropriations Bill

July 23, 2013

[as prepared]

Mr. Chairman, it disappoints me greatly to be here today with this bill before us.

I came to this subcommittee to work in partnership with my Republican and Democratic colleagues to keep our air and water clean, protect our nation’s natural treasures, and ensure this Congress honors our trust responsibilities to Indian Country.

The Interior – Environment appropriations bill before us today is not a reflection of bipartisan cooperation and compromise.  This is a harsh, harmful, and destructive bill that is the product of a Republican budget that seems all too eager to walk away from our families, communities, and the environment.

The destructive House budget and meager allocation was embraced and voted for solely by Republicans.  No one forced this harsh allocation on you.  You made the choice and voted for it.

When consenting adults willfully proceed to engage in actions knowing that they will cause harm – those actions are wrong.   Advancing this harsh bill is wrong– it is harmful to our environment, to millions of families, to Indian people, and to the land, water and air the next generations of Americans will inherit.   

For me, this bill is the legislative equivalent of a superfund site – it’s toxic.

Over the past months, this subcommittee held 18 hearings and briefings.  We heard from more than 150 witnesses.  We all spent hours and hours here together listening to Americans tell us how this subcommittee and the Congress can make a positive impact, a real difference in people’s lives.

Tribal leaders told us about real life and death needs facing youth, families and elders in Indian Country.  Yet this bill cuts funding to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service, which will only widen the gaps in health, education, and safety in Indian Country.  Why? Because of the harsh Republican allocation that leaves us no room to support even the most bipartisan priorities.

State officials told us how important federal funds are to maintain clean and safe drinking water.  Yet this Republican bill eviscerates the clean water fund by over 80%. 

The EPA testified about their efforts to protect the American people from pollution and toxins while cleaning up contaminated brownfields and putting them back into productive use creating jobs and restoring our tax-base.  Yet this Republican bill guts the EPA by 34% and eliminates the brownfields program.  Add in the appalling riders, and this bill gives a green light to polluters who profit from poisoning our air, water and land … and our families. 

The Fish and Wildlife Service - State and Tribal Wildlife Grants are eliminated.

Both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities would lose half their funding.  These cuts would jeopardize thousands of jobs, and deprive millions of Americans of vibrant cultural and educational experiences.

This Republican bill is not only harsh, harmful, and destructive to the American public at large, but it picks regional winners and losers throughout the nation.  In my region, it cuts the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative by 80% which is successfully restoring the largest fresh water basin on Earth.  That is not being fiscally conservative, it is being wholly irresponsible.

We all agree on the need for increased investment in firefighting.  And this bill finds more than $500 million to increase spending over FY13 for firefighting.  Firefighting is important – there is no doubt about it.  Unfortunately, the bill at the same time cuts more than $400 million from other Forest Service programs, including zeroing out the Forestry Legacy Program.

Mr. Chairman, isn’t investing in ensuring healthy forests and preventing forest fires more fiscally responsible than spending endless “emergency funds” that must be offset by finding outside funds?  It just isn’t prudent to wait until fires are raging to begin fighting them.

The bill has only been public for one day and we are already hearing a public outcry.  Just wait, because the deeper folks dig in the worse it gets.

As Members of this Subcommittee we have a job to do.  It is to move an appropriations bill forward that meets the needs of the American people.   This bill fails that most basic test.

I do not believe there is a single member in this room who would want this Republican bill to become law as it is written today.   We would be better off moving forward to full committee with a blank piece of paper.

I will oppose this bill today and in full committee.  I urge my Democratic and Republican colleagues to do the same.

We all love this country and we all have an obligation to put the needs of the American people first – before our political parties, before an arbitrary budget allocation.

Let us fulfill our responsibility, reject this bill and start over.  We can and must do better.